Election 2016

"Binary Choices" Like Trump or Clinton Are So 20th Century

Republican #NeverTrumpers won't back their party's nominee but will they support Gary Johnson?


South Park, Comedy Central

It's happening: Stalwart Republicans in the #NeverTrump camp are vocalizing their discontent with their party's nominee even more loudly after the Republican National Convention.

Here's The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, also a top analyst on Fox News, laying it out for all to see in a piece titled "Donald Trump Is Crazy, and So Is the GOP for Embracing Him":

Yes, Donald Trump is crazy. And, yes, the Republican party owns his insanity.

Fewer than twelve hours after Republicans rallied in support of his nomination for the presidency, Trump once again implied that Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz's father, was involved in the JFK assassination. At a press availability during an event to thank campaign volunteers Friday morning, Trump revived suggestions that the elder Cruz was an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy's assassin, and that they two were together months before the assassination.

What's particularly interesting to me isn't the vitriol directed at Trump but the rebuff indirectly given to GOP Speaker Paul Ryan, who spoke at the convention and has described the presidential race as a "binary choice" between Republicans and Democrats.

Here's Hayes stiff-arming that notion:

Trump supporters would pretend that your refusal to support Trump means you're backing Hillary Clinton. It's an absurd argument, of course. There are other options. This election is not a "binary choice" as Trump backers claim [emphasis added]. If the top candidates are, on the one hand, a congenital liar who jeopardized national security in service of her own ambition, and on the other, an unstable conspiracy theorist, the best choice is none of the above—a non-endorsement, a third party candidate, a write-in.

Doing this would be risky and perhaps costly. It'd also be right.

Over at RealClearPolitics, Heather Wilhelm (who also writes for The Federalist) sounds a similar note after Gov. Chris Christie pushed the idea that "Every Republican who is not working for Trump is working for Clinton….I said this to Jeb Bush the other day: 'It's chicken or fish, man. It's one or the other.'"

Wilhem writes:

If you're a Republican, and if you're not yet sold on Donald Trump taking the reins of the most powerful country in the world—or, for that matter, representing your party—you have likely heard this line everywhere you turn. You'll hear it from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has described the election as a "binary choice" [emphasis added]. You'll hear it from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, although he tends to shy away from using actual names: "He is better than she is." You'll hear it from just about any person you'll meet on the street who supports the GOP nominee….

"Chicken or Fish: YOU MUST CHOOSE" is a terrible analogy for this election. We do not live in a gulag cafeteria with a crazed dictatorial chef—at least not yet. We do not live on the set of "A Clockwork Orange." This is America, and, as I like to remind people, it's a free country, at least for now.

Second of all, our supposed "binary" choices—more on that later—are far worse than chicken or fish.

It's exciting to watch conservatives and Republicans see the light that politics, like the rest of life (especially in the 21st century) is not about binary choices but a range of choices (and the more choices, the better). As Matt Welch and I discussed and analyzed in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America a few years back, we live in a world of proliferating options in all aspects of our lives. There are 40-plus types of Pop Tarts out there, 10 flavors (?) of Astroglide personal lubricant, and effectively an infinite number of entertainment channels thanks to the internet. Even the GOP last week acknowledged the legitimacy of multiple sexual orientations and once-binary categories such as race and ethnicity have seen a thousand flowers bloom, with people increasingly calling themselves multiracial, other, and the like.

Everywhere around us, we have more choices and, as important, we show more comfort with more choices. Understanding the world in terms of gradations and spectrums rather than simple yes/no, good/bad, right/left binaries is what the 21st century is all about.

Except in politics, where the two-party duopoly still smothers competition in all sorts of ways and forces diverse people between not chicken or fish but what South Park once modeled as the choice between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich. So when conservative Republicans at The Weekly Standard and elsewhere start saying no dualistic party loyalty and refuse to insist on binary choices in politics, the beginning of change is afoot.

The leading alternative to Trump or Clinton is, of course, the Libertarian Party's ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld, who are pulling as high as 13 percent in national polls and as high as 26 percent in a single Utah congressional district. It's far from clear how many Republicans, especially the defense hawks at places such as The Weekly Standard and elsewhere, would consider voting for Johnson, but the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico's whole pitch is that he better represents most Americans' views than either Trump or Hillary. And as Weld recently told Reason TV in an interview that will air tomorrow, the LP ticket is trying to shake up fixed ideas about what's possible in political coalitions.

Something is also happening on the liberal side of the political aisle, too. If the Bernie Sanders insurgency didn't end up winning the day, it showed broad discontent within the Democratic Party with Hillary Clinton. And according to recent survey data of millennials by researchers at Harvard, in a three-way race, "Gary Johnson takes more from from Clinton, than Trump: Clinton 45%, Trump 23%, Johnson 13%, 19% Undecided." Unsurprisingly, Johnson is making a pitch to Sanders' voters, telling them they agree with him more than they do with Clinton.

Increasingly, then, the right and the left, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats are realizing that a complicated world cannot be squeezed down into "binary choice" between chicken or fish, douche or turd, or Trump and Clinton. As important, voting for neither major-party candidate doesn't mean you're helping one of them win. As Drew Carey, a member of the board of trustees that runs Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website) recently told The Daily Beast:

As for why Carey supports Johnson, he said, "I don't need a national daddy, or mommy." Like Johnson, Carey would not say which of the two major candidates he believes would be worse for the country. Asked who the "lesser of two evils" is between Clinton and Trump, he replied, simply, "Gary Johnson." And he has no concerns about the Libertarian candidate potentially stealing votes away from Hillary Clinton and inadvertently delivering the election to Donald Trump, as some polls have shown.

"I don't give a fuck," Carey says, bluntly. "If your person doesn't get enough votes, you lose. I don't want to hear it. There are more than two choices and you are allowed to vote for whoever you want. This is America. If you can't get the votes to win, tough shit." 

Watch Gary Johnson talk with me and Matt Welch—and RNC delegates—on the streets of Cleveland: